Bitches and Body Image – a personal perspective

Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week (13-15 May), and the theme for this year is body image.

How do you feel about yours?

We all go through crises of confidence where we don’t feel comfortable in our own skin. We go through phases where we hate the way we look. We become fixated on a certain part of our body that we detest, and our thought processing becomes distorted. Do others really notice or care? No, they don’t, but we notice.

The Mental Health Foundation conducted a survey last year and found that 30% of all adults have been so stressed by body image and/or appearance that they have felt unable to cope.

With the advent of social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, and with picture perfect images of smiley, good looking people with their perfect figures and perfect lives, this highlights how we feel about the way we look even more. I know this from my own experience as a teenager from when I was bullied about my weight at school.

My own experience

I couldn’t help that my body developing faster and earlier than other girls in my year. Puberty is a weird and sometimes cruel time in a teenager’s life. My body and mind felt they were out of control – hormones and boobs especially! Things weren’t helped by my mother being permanently on a calorie-controlled diet from the 1970s up until she passed away over 10 years ago.

Both these experiences shaped decades to come, a distorted view of what I felt I looked like. This resulted in 22 years of yo-yo dieting, binge eating, abusing my body with laxatives and at one stage being on the verge of bulimia.

Daily self-loathing

Every day started and ended with a session of self-loathing in front of the mirror, prodding the bits I hated and constantly chastising myself for the way I was. Not to mention the daily battle of what I was going to wear, what I would feel good in. The bed became a repository for piles of discarded clothes as wardrobe detonation began, to find that ideal outfit. Consequently, I hid my body behind baggy clothes which was my form of protection and also self-punishment. I was very conscious of having a bigger bust than most of my friends and work colleagues. So much so that it felt like it was a constant point of discussion.

Taking action

At the age of 37, I saw the light, and got my head space sorted and took action. Some of it was to do with the fact that I would be 40 in three years’ time, somehow it felt the right time for peace and resolution with myself.

The first thing that made me feel better was exercising some self-care. I started to look after me. It began with eating a healthy diet and breaking the dieting cycle. Next was beginning a fitness regime. Both made such a difference to how I mentally and physically felt.

Then I discovered Bravissimo, the underwear shop for bigger boobed ladies. For years Marks and Spencer always measured my bra size as a 36DD, I never felt comfortable in my bras, I was always spilling out the top and bottom, which was probably why I wore baggy clothes and had terrible posture. I was shocked when I found the size I should be wearing – a 32F!!! Having a bra that fitted was a revelation. I looked like I’d lost a stone in weight. My confidence soared and my posture improved,– I was no longer slumped, round shouldered and hiding away.

Something else that helped improve my body image was seeing an image consultant. Knowing what style clothes to wear to suit my shape and colours to complement my complexion and hair colour has been a game changer. Getting dressed in the mornings was no longer filled with angst.

Now, in my mid-fifties, I’ve had nearly two decades of being mostly at peace with myself and feeling reasonably body confident.

For anyone going through body image issues, think about the following:

  1. What started you to have feelings about the way look and when did that start? Was it something someone said, or did that resulted in you feeling the way you do?
  2. If you feel it’s something you can’t sort out yourself or it’s too much of a challenge, then opt to get some professional help and go and talk to someone.
  3. Exercise self-care and look after you by making sure you’re sleeping well, eating smart, keeping fit and looking after your mental health.
  4. Working with an image consultant to get your styling and colours may do the trick.
  5. Whatever size bust you have, make sure you’re wearing a bra that fits and is the correct size – many women don’t.

 

Like anyone, I still occasionally have my bad days. My next challenge is coping with what menopause throws at me, it’s like going through puberty backwards – I’ll save that for another blog!